What Do Religious People in the US Really Think about Science?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/what-do-religious-people-in-the-us-really-think-about-science

Enjoyed the post. Indeed, I read a comment yesterday that there does not seem to be great interest in churches these days in the origins debate, and how that maybe that is a good thing. In reflecting on it, I have a lot of friends who seem to have a very schizoid position where they affirm what amounts to a literal biblical interpretation and do not see that it conflicts with the science of an ancient universe and evolution. They seem to hold both positions at once, depending on the setting, and have resolved the conflict essentially by “not thinking about it” and really do not want to think about it because the cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable.

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Do you think that “cognitive dissonance” is a fairly modern fixation? Did earlier societies hold various conflicting yet simultaneous views with more ease than some want to allow for today? I think your anecdotal observation shows that we still easily find ways to harbor seemingly disparate things in mind today too – perhaps we just criticize it more, especially in everybody else.

If we go back to the Scopes trial, the debate really wasn’t about the evolution of animals, plants, and bacteria. Rather, it was about the possible evolution of humans. According to the law on the books, it was okay to teach that animals evolved, but you couldn’t teach that humans evolved.

In my experience, both within the church and outside of it, the interplay between Christian doctrine and nature is quite complex. On one hand, certain behaviors are considered sinful because they are unnatural (e.g. homosexuality). On the other hand, certain behaviors are considered sinful because it is what animals naturally do (e.g. polygamy or promiscuity). Nature is described in one instant as being beautiful and wonderful creation, and the next moment there are Christians who react with disgust at the idea of being related to other species. Like I said, there seems to be a very complex interplay between being of nature and separate from nature. I can see why some Christians would find it difficult to find that meeting place between science and theology.

The authors also hit on something that I have thought about quite a bit, and it is somewhat similar to Gould’s idea of “Non-overlapping Magisteria”. This is where science deals with facts and religion deals with morals and ethics. While the stringent borders of Gould’s magisterial can certainly be argued against, I do tend to agree with the overall gist of what he was getting at. Science can tell us how the physical universe works and what the outcome of our actions will be within the confines of the natural universe. However, science can’t tell us what we should do. Science can tell us how to split atoms, but it can’t tell us if we should use that technology to produce electricity or make bombs.

When it comes to what we should do (i.e. ethics and morals), everyone should have a seat at the table. That isn’t to say that everyone is going to be right, but we should allow every argument to be heard. We need to ask the dangerous questions, and be able to accept the answers. We need everyone in society to be a part of human progress if it is truly going to be about humanity.

So kudos to the authors! There are many things in there that many atheists will wholeheartedly agree with . . . and Christians too. :wink:


I honestly do not know, but from my recollection of Paul’s words on Mar’s Hill, these types of discussions have probably been present for ages. I think that ancient people did not separate the physical and spiritual the way we do. Just thinking about it offhand, both Ecclesiastes and Job speak to a disconnect in how they saw justice and how the world works so you might say that nothing is new under the sun.

IMHO, this just reinforces Jesus’ recommendation that we look upon God as our Father who made us a powerful gift of Mind that could ‘do science’. When each of my kids had completed Driver’s Ed, I, as their father, could hand over the keys to the family car, and they could use that powerful ‘tool’ to help deliver Meals on Wheels or as transportation on dates. As parents, we had to trust that they would not misuse that tool in street racing or other foolishness.

When my older daughter went off to college, we judged her trustworthy enough to have a car of her own. While there she reluctantly let her roommate borrow her car _‘just to do a few errands in town’ (_Urbana). However, her roommate turned the keys over to another girl (the same age) and they took the car joyriding out of town on a freeway that had a section under construction where there was two-way traffic on the lane they were on. While passing one truck they were hit head on by another truck, and my daughter’s roommate was killed and her friend badly injured. This was a very painful lesson for my daughter to learn: Power needs responsibility to properly guide it, and any delegation of power implies a measure of Trust that it will be used wisely. I think there is a close parallel in how God, in giving humanity the intellect to release atomic power, has trusted us to use it wisely. Hiroshima and Nagasaki have given us the opportunity to 'look over the brink’ of disaster if we violate that trust and use atomic power to enhance political power. As for me, I am enough of an optimist to believe that a loving God will not let that happen, but it is spooky to consider that the prophesy of an Armageddon could be fulfilled in this manner. Not a very cheery way to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!
Al Leo

Other people from other traditions, philosophies, and worldviews will have differing opinions, but a diversity of views isn’t a bad thing.

And Merry Christmas to you! You sobering story reminds me of my favorite analogy as to theodicy: 10,000 teenagers die each year in auto accidents, yet when our kids reach the appropriate age, we facilitate getting their license and let them drive. We do so not because we do not love them, but because we do, and we want them to grow and mature, even if that puts them at risk.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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